Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book review: Dead Beat: a Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

As any of you who have read the book reviews here before well know, my favorite novels tend towards escapist stuff: fantasy, mystery and horror. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a series that combines these exact three genres: the Dresden Files books, by Jim Butcher. I’m not exactly sure what led me here – I think I was poking around on Hulu.com and watched an episode of the eponymous and now-defunct SciFi series loosely based on the books – but I picked up Dead Beat on my last trip to the library ( I love the library!) and finished it last night, staying up ‘til nearly midnight to do so.

Harry Dresden is a wizard whose magically-inclined parents are now dead, and who fights on the side of good against the powers of darkness. This is all Dresden has in common with that other wizard named Harry. Dresden lives in modern-day Chicago, operating an under the radar wizardry business and also assisting the Chicago PD (particularly his current crush, cop Karin Murphy) with the weirder cases. He lives in a basement apartment with his dog Mouse, his cat Mister, and his super-intelligent spirit in a skull, Bob; he is off the grid because being a wizard wreaks havoc with technology; and he is a sucker for damsels in distress.

In Dead Beat, Dresden encounters some serious Big Bad: in an attempt to save Murphy’s reputation from a blackmailing vampire boss, he stumbles upon a plot by six competing necromancers to resurrect an army of dead spirits, and basically subsume the newly-risen dead to deify themselves with stolen eldritch powers the world hasn’t seen for millennia. Harry has to call upon all his allies – werewolves, his vampire half-brother, a cowardly polka-loving mortician, the suspicious Wardens of the White Council, a ruthless faerie queen and a fallen angel – help him save the city on Halloween.

There is a whole lot going on in this book and author Jim Butcher does a great job of keeping all the balls in the air. In fact, Dead Beat is the seventh book in the Dresden Files series (which I didn’t realize because my copy didn’t list all the titles in the front of the book) and yet I was still able to figure out who everyone was, and what was going on. Butcher has his main character allude to past occurrences with just enough detail for a newbie like me to garner perspective without over-expositing for fans who have been with him from the beginning.

Based on this one volume, I’m going to say that the Dresden Files novels are fun, with a main character/narrator who is full of conflict and foibles and wry humor. I’m thrilled to have found a new series to work my way through and you better believe that I’m going to go back and start from the beginning (– and won’t you all be glad to have a break from Gaiman and Pratchett?).

Note: The SciFi television series is very different from the books and Jim Butcher apparently posted on his website when it first aired that the show was rather an alternate universe, based loosely on the books but by no means faithful to them. I’ve watched 3.5 episodes and it’s okay, better than average for SciFi’s stuff, but not even close to the quality of BSG (or Angel, to which it bears similarity as well).


  1. I'm on my second run through of the whole series. I even dressed up as Harry for Joe's Halloween party. I just finished re-reading Dead Beat last week. I'm on White Night now. I love the series. Once I finish it, I have a brand new copy of the concluding volume of his other series, The Codex Alera, waiting for me. I arrived just as I was in the middle of the second go around. The Alera novels are different, but I enjoy them a lot as well.

  2. We have such good taste! And: I picked up the first volume of The Codex Alera at the library since none of the other Dresden Files books were available; I'm going to dive in as soon as I finish the Terry Pratchett I'm reading right now.